The Locale: Grant Park is a 379 acre park in South Milwaukee along the shores of Lake Michigan.
Reasons to Love: This park is extraordinarily beautiful in all seasons, but it really shows off in fall! Travelling down the 7 Bridges Trail makes you feel like you are miles outside the city. The park also has tons of amenities that allow you to spend a whole day within its borders exploring and having fun with friends and family.
- Fees: free parking at several lots within the park
- Mileage: several .5-1 mile loop options, numerous other trails would allow for up to 6-7 miles of hiking
- Accessibility: the Oak Leaf trail runs through this park and is entirely paved, most of the other trails have stairs and bridges
- Terrain: there are two different options. If you stay up top on the Oak Leaf and Forked Aster Trail system that run along the cliff, you’re in for a flat option. The Forked Aspen will have a few down trees and/or rocks and roots to navigate. Heading down to the beach on 7 Bridges, the trail is hard pack dirt but with lots of stairs.
- Pet Friendly: dogs allowed on leash
- Bathrooms: there are three seasonal restrooms (flush toilets) located in the park at lots 7, 5A, and 4
Maps and Parking: As you can see on the map below, there are 10 designated parking areas in Grant Park! So even in peak season you’re sure to find parking somewhere! I have a couple favorite parking spots, depending on what kind of hike I want to do that day.
I almost ALWAYS park in the picnic area 5 parking lot, which is the P in the center of the map between the black 5 & 6 circles. It is the largest lot, so it’s never full (beer garden season excluded, and I avoid parks with beer gardens at all costs!). This lot affords you quick access to the 7 Bridges hiking trail down into the ravine to the lake as well as to an easy stroll along the top of the cliff. I am generally headed down to the lake when I come to Grant Park, but sometimes I like that easy lake view stroll.
Other times I will park along the roadside on Oak Creek Parkway, which is actually not listed on this map! I’ll park near the corner of Oak Creek Parkway and Mill Road. You’ll find this by the south entrance of the park. Oak Creek Parkway is just of N. Chicago Avenue, where the old Dairy Queen building stands. I like parking here to see the Mill Pond and the little waterfall there and then stroll through the wooded trails down there that are mostly just used by fishermen.
Hiking Routes: I’m only going to outline the two options that I take most of the time, both of which start at the center parking area at picnic area 5. There are numerous other routes that you can choose to take and sometimes they are worth it, as they aren’t as popular as the routes I will mention!
Option 1: 7 Bridges to the Lake. When you pull into the parking lot, you’ll be greeted by an overlook of the lake on the far side of the lot. This is the perfect spot to start a trek! After observing the water, take a left and head through the woods. Very quickly you will come across a wooden fence and a set of stairs. Head down the stairs which end in a bridge over the creek. This creek empties right there into Lake Michigan and you’ll be able to see the beach from the bridge. Head over to the lake and explore for a bit, there’s lots of cool rocks and beach glass to find! When you come back, instead of taking the same bridge and stairs up, continue past it and follow the bridges! You’ll come to a fork, take the left (it even just looks like the main path) which opens up and you can see the whole ravine. At the end, you’ll come to a very tall staircase and will be able to see the covered bridge up top.
Take a breath and forge ahead! At the top you can marvel over the simple beauty of the partially covered bridge with its beautiful quote “Enter this wild wood and view the haunts of nature.” Cross over that bridge and take the left. It’ll wind around along the top of the ravine and spit you out at that first staircase you went down! From there, it is back to the car. This is less than 1 mile, but if you are anything like me you’ll have tired yourself out walking in the sand and added on at least half a mile there!
Option 2: Lake Views Along the Cliff. This hike is a bit longer, about 1.5 – 2 miles depending on how far you go until you turn around. But there are no stairs and half of it is paved, so it is considerably less effort! I start at that same lot with the same lake vista, but I take a right instead. You’ll see a dirt path that leads off into the woods. You’ll follow this along the cliff for multiple views of the lake. It runs roughly parallel to the paved Oak Leaf Trail and opens up to it several times. You’ll be taking that paved trail back, so really you can turn around at any point you want. I take the dirt path all the way to the end, however, where it spits you out at the golf course. There are no more dirt trails at that point, so I walk the paved trail back. This hike really is lovely and is great for new hikers who want to get their feet “wet” or those who are pressed for time and want to get a brisk walk in. I often do this route before work myself.
Trail Condition Alerts: Head over to the Milwaukee County Parks website for potential updates to trail conditions and closures.
Other Recreation Opportunities: There are a ton of other things to do in this park! You can bike on the paved Oak Leaf trail that runs through the park as well as along the road in the park. There are numerous picnic sites and playgrounds as well as recreation facilities that include a small disc-golf course, soccer fields, tennis courts, and of course, the 18 hole golf course. Grant Park hosts one of the travelling beer gardens during the summer.
My favorite non-hiking activities all have to do with the water though! Grant Park beach is on the south end of the park and boasts a swimming area combed weekly and Ferch’s Beachside Grille where you can grab some food and drinks in the summer (they have fun beachside events too!). You can swim, relax on the beach, have a picnic, fly a kite, build a sandcastle, you name it. Or, you can head up to the beach access from 7 Bridges hiking trails. Lots of people bring a blanket or chair to hang out. I prefer to come super early in the morning (we’re talking 6am) and do some beachcombing! I’ve found some incredible pieces on this beach, which I’ll write about and link here later! Finally, you can head up to the Mill Pond to enjoy the water views of the pond and waterfall!
Make a Day of It: Grab a book from the South Milwaukee Library just south of the park, and just hang in the park all day! Grab some food at Ferch’s in the park or bring in some take out from Taco Stop (not a showstopping place, but quick and easy!). If you want a sit-down place, I highly recommend Azteca Restaurant on Milwaukee Ave for some authentic Mexican! Everything is good there!